How to Use "Be Supposed To" in English: Meaning, Uses, Examples, Practice Questions (AUDIO included)
Recommended level: Intermediate
Related video: https://www.engvid.com/speaking-english-expectations-how-to-use-supposed-to/
"Be supposed to" is one of the most common English phrases. But what does it mean? And how do you use it?
In general, this short phrase is all about expectations and intentions. If something or someone is expected to be or act in a certain way, they are supposed to be that way or act in that way. To make things clearer, we're going to look at some of the different situations where "be supposed to" is used, and we'll look at a lot of common examples.
Grammar note: "Be supposed to" is typically used in the present simple and the past simple, though it can be used in the present perfect ("We're supposed to have finished by now"), and in continuous forms as well ("We're supposed to be reading right now"). The "be" is always conjugated based on its subject (I am supposed to, I was supposed to, he is supposed to, she was supposed to, etc.). Finally, "be supposed to" is always followed by a bare infinitive verb. For example, "We were supposed to be at the doctor's office 20 minutes ago."
Okay, let's get into it. Here are five ways to use "be supposed to."
1. To discuss the expectations of rules, policies, jobs, etc.
"You're not supposed to park here." (Meaning, "The law says you can't park here.")
"You're supposed to go when the light turns green."
"We're supposed to start work at eight o'clock."
"Employees are not supposed to wear hats in the workplace."
"Do you know if we're supposed to get paid for working overtime?"
"If there's a serious problem with a client, you're supposed to report it to the manager."
"The company is supposed to respond to vacation requests within two weeks."
"You're supposed to order your food over there, not here."
"Where are we supposed to wait?"
As you can see, "be supposed to" is used to discuss what is expected in a particular context. In the cases above, we are talking about formal expectations at work and in public places. To make this clearer, another way to say "You're supposed to order your food over there, not here," is "You're expected to order your food over there, not here." In this case, a restaurant has a specific way that it expects customers to act when they are inside the establishment.
Practice: Think about the job of a teacher. What are some things that a teacher is supposed to do?
2. To discuss expectations based on predictions or reports
"It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow."
"The parade is supposed to last 45 minutes. I saw that reported on the news."
"It's supposed to rain all afternoon."
"It wasn't supposed to snow today, so I didn't wear my boots."
"According to the news, the results of the election are supposed to be released in the next two hours."
"I read a report that said this winter is supposed to be colder than usual."
These are usually future expectations, but they can be past expectations, too. For example, "It wasn't supposed to rain yesterday." This means, the weather reports said it was going to be sunny, but it rained instead. "It wasn't supposed to rain. It was supposed to be sunny." It's very common to use "be supposed to" to discuss our expectations of the weather. You can look at a weather app and tell people what the weather is supposed to be like today, tomorrow, this week, etc.
Practice: What's the weather supposed to be like today? What's it supposed to be like tomorrow?
3. To discuss expectations based on hearsay
"Paris is supposed to be beautiful."
"Spain is supposed to get really hot in the summer."
"He's supposed to be a really flexible boss."
"Flights are supposed to be really expensive this time of year."
"I heard their first album is supposed to be better than their second album."
"I read somewhere that the movie is supposed to be 3 hours."
"Hearsay" is information we have heard from other people. This can mean you heard it vocally, or that you read it in a message from someone, or maybe you saw someone post about it on social media. In all of these cases, you do not have first-hand knowledge of what you are discussing. Instead, you are talking about what people can expect from something or someone based on information you have acquired from somewhere.
If you say "He's supposed to be really nice," the meaning is "I have heard other people say that he is a nice person. I expect him to be nice if I ever meet him."
Practice: Think about a country you know but which you've never visited. What have you heard about it? Finish this idea: "I've heard it's supposed to be..."
4. To discuss expectations based on plans, schedules, and arrangements
"We were supposed to see each other yesterday, but I had a family emergency."
"My cousin's supposed to visit us this weekend."
"The train is supposed to arrive in 10 minutes."
"The game is supposed to start at 7 p.m."
"The movie was supposed to start at 8, but there were some technical issues, so it didn't start until around 8:20."
"I'm supposed to call him after 6 o'clock to give him an update on the situation."
If you made an arrangement to call someone at a certain time, you created the expectation that you would call, and you probably also created a personal intention to do this. Yes, it's perfectly fine to say "The movie starts at 8 o'clock," but if you want to add a little doubt and just talk about the time the movie is expected to start, you can say "The movie is supposed to start at 8 o'clock."
Practice: What are your plans for today and tomorrow? Are you supposed to do anything in particular?
5. To discuss the expectations we have of ourselves and of other people and situations
"I'm not supposed to tell you this, but the company is going to fire five people this week."
"You're not supposed to be here. Why did you come?"
"She was supposed to do the dishes, but the sink is still full."
"You were supposed to help us with the project. What happened?"
"My grandma is supposed to get out of the hospital this weekend."
"Sorry, but I won't be able to go with you. I'm supposed to help my sister move into her new apartment."
"Hey, aren't you supposed to be the polite one? Why are you being so rude?"
"The party was supposed to be a surprise."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You were supposed to be ready 15 minutes ago!"
This is an expansion of usage 4. In both cases, we are focusing on what we expect or what we expected other people to be or do, or what other people expect or expected us to be or do. In these cases, people's intentions are important. For example, "You were supposed to help us." In this situation, we expected a specific person to help us, but they didn't. Why not? Why did they choose to do something else? Perhaps they had the intension of helping us, but something happened which prevented them from helping us.
Practice: What is something you were supposed to do recently, but you didn't?
As you can see, expectations and intentions are very important when it comes to "be supposed to." I hope this page has made things clearer for you. To practice using "be supposed to," please leave a comment at the bottom of this page with your answers to the practice questions. Thank you.
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